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HLA House Project: Building a Sustainability Model for a Patient-Education Program

July 6, 2020

Students in the Health Leadership Apprentice Program, divided into “houses,” work alongside Community-Driven Initiatives to help Central Texas community members address health-related issues. This post is by members of the HLA Yellow House, which worked with the Volunteer Healthcare Clinic.

We are a group of undergraduate students at The University of Texas at Austin, each pursuing different majors but collaborating to improve health care in our community. Our group members are Ishaan Manohar (public health), Rebecca Dawes (public health and biology), Melissa Demock (biochemistry), Megan Barker (nutrition), Hiba Ansari (public health) and Karim Salhadar (biomedical engineering).

Through a collaboration between HLA and the Volunteer Healthcare Clinic, our house project’s goal was to produce a patient-education program that addresses the chronic conditions that VHC patients experience. VHC is a nonprofit that provides health care to people in Travis County who have low income or do not have insurance.

HLA’s own Madalyn Rosenthal, Cole Maguire, Riya Sreenivasan and Katherine Lambert created the VHC health education program in fall 2018 under the supervision of Kacey Hanson, MPH, program manager in the Department of Population Health. They delivered presentations and materials to VHC’s Monday night chronic disease clinic on a variety of health topics that are important to its patient populations.

Throughout the first half of the spring semester, we had been shadowing the previous group to understand how to effectively conduct presentations on important health care topics at VHC. After a couple of rounds of shadowing, we planned to put together our own content to have approved and potentially present at VHC.

However, due to COVID-19, we modified our original proposal significantly, as we were not allowed to enter the clinic for the remainder of the semester. Therefore, instead of completing the presentations, we decided to focus on developing a thorough, long-term sustainability plan for this project, especially since three of our current house members are graduating, that would further develop the work by onboarding and retaining college students volunteering in the chronic disease clinic.

This model included a volunteer application for the incoming HLA cohort, interview and application materials and a written document with obligations that volunteers must agree to before joining VHC. It also addressed volunteer responsibilities after selection, with timetables and procedures for incoming volunteers, protocols for content development and patient interactions and a long-term structure for volunteer leadership roles to continue the program’s momentum. We will be restarting presentations once VHC reopens.

The initial plans have been successfully modified to fit the current circumstances in our community. While our house had intentions of adjusting the presentation content to better accommodate the population we serve, as well as creating new presentations, we ended up establishing a model for sustaining such a program at VHC by addressing future recruitment methodologies to ensure the patient-education program’s efficacy.

As part of this effort, we gained practical experience in designing a long-term public health intervention that can adapt to personnel changes as students graduate and leave the program. We formalized our long-term yearly recruitment process through our project charter and model application; created a comprehensive recruitment, training and presentation timeline for onboarding new team members; and created detailed protocols to inform how future team members will create content and interact with VHC.

During this partnership, we learned to adapt to real-time challenges and maintain a trusting relationship with our community partner. Communication became a prominent factor in maintaining a productive workflow both in the house and in our project.

This symbiotic collaboration gave us, as undergraduates, exposure to the needs of our community and allowed us to learn about health care beyond the confines of a textbook. As many of our group members are public health majors, we have studied project design and implementation in the classroom. Now, through this project, we’ve learned from both successes and challenges how to apply this knowledge in a real-world public health intervention.

We would like to thank everyone we worked with at Volunteer Healthcare Clinic for this opportunity to experience and mold a public health initiative, especially Silvia Núñez and Laura Hurst. We would also like to thank Madalyn Rosenthal and HLA’s Green House for their continuous support in making this a seamless transition. Additionally, we would like to thank Valeria Chavez; Nitakuwa Barrett, MSN, RN; and Steve Steffensen, M.D., with HLA for their constant support and constructive feedback as we refined our project.